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The Worst Thing I Can Do When I'm Struggling With Chronic Pain

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I woke up this morning in a tremendous amount of pain. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you did too – or you know someone who struggles. My nightmare comes from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.

• What is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome?
• What Are Common Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Symptoms?

Is it self-destructive thoughts?

As I often do, my horrible self-destructive habit of pulling myself apart when I’m in pain began. I was feeding myself negativity and it wasn’t even 5:00 a.m. yet. Why can’t I sleep the way “normal” people can? How is it 2017 and doctors do not have a one-size-fits-all solution, or any solution for that matter, for people with chronic pain? I won’t be able to get anything done today because of my lack of sleep and this wretched pain. I have already decided my fate for the day.


Is it social media?

Instead of practicing an ounce of any good or a single positive habit, I am quickly spiraling down the rabbit hole. I do what seems to be the worst thing possible. As a very small distraction from the pain, I open Facebook and start looking through my feed. I had recently taken a Facebook sabbatical of sorts but realized I missed out on a few very important announcements and now I’m back on, trying to catch up – such is the draw of social media.

Is it jealousy?

I feel myself start sinking deeper into my bed and tears start to flow. I tell myself it’s from the pain but my subconscious doesn’t let me off the hook that easily. I know it’s because I just saw a post from a friend I used to work out with. She was standing at the finish line with her hands up in victory, covered in mud, in her tiny shorts and rock hard body. She was boasting her health – as she should be.

I know the real reason for the tears. It’s because the harsh reality is that she still can and I can’t. I know it’s because it was just five years ago that my body was kind to me and now it’s not. Most people would call this feeling jealousy. It certainly felt that way in that moment. However, I also had another feeling and it was very positive. I felt extremely happy for her. Her face was radiant, her husband had taken a picture of his proud wife and seeing this picture also made me feel great. What bothered me was that the pain of my situation momentarily took over any good feeling I had for her. Now, on top of all my other self-sabotaging thoughts, I felt guilt.

Is it guilt?

Not only do I feel guilt for many other non-social media reasons, yet another post comes across my feed. It’s a friend who also has EDS and she is struggling far more than I could imagine. As most of my issues are internal, hers are both internal and external and braces cover her body. My guilt now switches from my fitness guru friend to the one who literally can’t take the walks that I can, who can’t make herself dinner and who doesn’t have a support system like I do. I continue to sob. I cry because I can’t help her but also because I now feel selfish for taking pity on my own situation.

I could easily write about how guilt is the worst thing you can do when you have chronic pain. It could also be self-destructive habits, which is more all-encompassing, or a hundred more “bad habits” that pain has caused my brain to conjure up.

This article isn’t about that. While all those habits are very bad, in my opinion, comparing your life with another is the absolute worst thing you can do when you have chronic pain.

Each one of us has a different set of circumstances that are unlike any other person. Yet, we all make comparisons – it’s in our nature. I believe it’s there for a much deeper reason, to gauge a healthy lifestyle, which all leads to the fact that we all have the same root desire to be loved. We don’t want to be too different. We want to be different enough but we also want to fit in.

I don’t think we will ever stop comparing ourselves with others – nor do I think we should. It’s how to recognize when we have crossed that line from a healthy comparison of “Wow, we have a lot in common and can learn and grow from each other” to “I’m worthless because I’ll never be like that again – therefore I don’t value myself.”

This is the reason I say that comparisons, albeit good, can cause us to spiral into a deep, dark hole of negative emotions. I used to use comparisons as a guide of sorts. Now they seem to affect my day from the moment I start engaging in them. It’s not when I look at a beautiful model on the cover of a magazine, but when I see someone who I was most likely to be like. It’s all the brilliance I had imagined for myself.

Don’t even compare yourself with the best person – you.

Comparison is just as bad, if not worse, when you compare your new life with your old – or with how you thought your life would turn out. Trust me, I’m more jealous (there’s that horrid word again) of my imaginary self than any other person.

Will I stop using social media?

Not a chance. I need to deal with my habit of self-destructing through comparisons head on. It won’t be easy and I may never master it but I wouldn’t trade my controllable behaviors by shutting out the wonderful feelings I have when I do see my friends happy, whether it’s eating an ice cream cone that my body won’t let me eat or mastering that yoga pose I
can no longer do. It brings me more joy to see that than any pain caused by comparisons. I may not have known it at the time, but I missed it tremendously when I didn’t get my daily dose of happiness by watching those I love share their most wonderful moments.

I’ll try hard to focus on what I can do, when I can do it, and on my personal goals, and when life hands me a side dish of jealousy, I’ll ask for an order of humble pie.

Originally published: August 25, 2017
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